India’s cash-rich and powerful cricket board could face a possible leadership crisis on Friday with the Supreme Court threatening to punish the sports body for doggedly refusing to implement a raft of reforms suggested by a panel headed by a former judge.
“If you are giving an unconditional undertaking that you are abiding by all conditions by tomorrow (Friday), we will wait, otherwise we are passing orders,” chief justice TS Thakur told the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) on Thursday.
The BCCI is accused of cherry-picking recommendations made by the top court-appointed panel headed by former CJI RM Lodha.
The BCCI refused on Thursday to offer a guarantee that it would comply with the reforms endorsed by the Supreme Court, worsening a bitter stand-off with the judiciary that has threatened to disrupt the country’s most popular sport.
The board’s defiance angered the bench to such an extent that it threatened to dismiss the body’s top rung and pass an interim order barring the funding of state cricket associations, prohibited under the Lodha panel recommendations.
One of the world’s richest and most powerful sports bodies, the BCCI has been dogged by financial scandals and allegations of mismanagement for decades.
After a spot-fixing scandal in the flagship Indian Premier League marred the BCCI’s reputation three years ago, the SC ordered the Lodha panel to clean up the body and suggest changes. But the recommendations have proven thorny to implement with the BCCI digging in its heels.
During the hearing on Thursday, BCCI lawyer Kapil Sibal asked for time till October 17 to talk to state associations and ruled out any immediate promise. He argued that any interim order restricting funds to BCCI affiliates will cripple domestic cricket.
BCCI also blamed state associations for not adopting the reforms and claimed it did not have any control on them. “If they are reluctant why give them funds,” the bench countered.
“We can’t be wasting our time for reforming BCCI. People are waiting for years to get justice, but here people (BCCI) are not willing to reform,” justice Thakur told Sibal, who replied: “I can’t give the undertaking.”
The bench immediately stopped the proceedings and called it a day at 3 pm.
Earlier in the day, the court asked the BCCI what compelled it to disburse Rs 400 crore to state associations on September 29 despite the panel’s direction not to release funds until reforms were in place. The sports body explained the disbursal was in terms of a November 2015 decision that came before the recommendations. However, it could not produce any documents to support the argument.
“I think we are forced to come to a situation where the BCCI is asking for their suspension by this court,” said justice Thakur who expressed displeasure when told that none of the top brass – including president Anurag Thakur – were professional cricketers.
“Who is the he? What is he? Is he a politician? Did he play cricket?” Thakur asked.
Though Sibal said that Anurag was a serious cricketer, the CJI was left bemused when informed that the BCCI president played just one Ranjhi Trophy match – as head of the Himachal Pradesh Cricket Association he appointed himself as the captain of the state team and played a match with Jammu and Kashmir.
“All of us have played cricket in our lives. Even I have captained the Supreme Court judges cricket team,” the CJI said.
Thursday’s hearing was the result of Lodha’s complaint that the BCCI was stalling all efforts to change its old system of functioning. The former SC judge also alleged the board flouted suggested guidelines at its annual general meeting on September 21, which included forming a new national selection committee.
A cloud already hangs over the remainder of New Zealand’s tour of India after unnamed BCCI sources told the media that they couldn’t fund state associations to hold matches because the Lodha panel had frozen their accounts.